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Sarah Simpson column: The heartwarming tale of Thai and Wal-Mart Joe

“He has super bad anxiety and he was not super excited about the changes to Wal-Mart.”
‘Happy to help’, Wal-Mart Joe Barton went above and beyond to help Thai Phan, 8, get reacquainted with his surroundings after major in-store changes. (Submitted)

I’ve been trying to take a break from Facebook, but given my job, it is inevitable I’m on the social media site quite often to keep tabs on the various about-town type of pages. It recently paid off with a good news story that I’m so excited to share.

Earlier this month Natalie Phan headed to Wal-Mart with her son Thai to get some shopping done. On the way to the store, however, the eight-year-old boy was overcome with anxiety. He was concerned about all of the changes being made at the store.

(Having walked through recently, I see where he’s coming from. It’s completely different inside now.)

“He has super bad anxiety and he was not super excited about the changes to Wal-Mart,” Phan explained. “The only thing that calmed him enough to enter the store was to speak with someone and get an explanation on why the store was changing,” Phan continued. “We waited in line at customer service and quietly told an employee that Thai has autism and explained his concerns.”

Joe Barton, an employee at the store, just happened to overhear the conversation.

“He came to help which was so nice,” Phan noted.

Barton offered to give Thai a tour “and tell him why the store changes will be better than ever,” she said.

So, for the next 20 minutes she stood back and watched Thai’s eyes light up as he and Wal-Mart Joe (as I have apparently decided to call him) conducted their walkabout. Barton ended the tour by buying a pack of Yugioh cards for Thai.

It was the icing on an already pretty great cake.

“I walked into the store with a sad, nervous, little guy and left with the excited, happy Thai we all know and love,” Phan said. “Thank you Joe for your patience and time.”

Not long thereafter, Wal-Mart Joe surfaced on Facebook. His take on the situation was a little bit different than Thai’s mom’s.

“Might I suggest that Thai, being the hero of this story in facing his fears and concerns head-on, be perhaps rewarded,” Barton wrote. “My hope is that the attention is put to the young man who was brave enough to leave his house, get in the car, go to a place that had changed, talk to people he didn’t know and ask for answers,” Barton continued. “I helped his mom walk to the end of the store. Thai getting there with his mom is a much bigger deal and I hope [it] is recognized.”

How cool is this story? Everybody came out a winner because of a young boy’s bravery and a kind man’s willingness to help.

But it didn’t end there.

“We actually hired Joe as a behavioural consultant for Thai,” Phan said. “That one-time meeting turned into hopefully a long-term behavioural plan. Joe actually has a four-year psychology degree which he just finished, so it all worked out.”

Barton and Thai have already met at the park and are well on their way to a magical friendship.

“Thai has so many negative interactions daily,” Phan conceded. “Autism is an invisible disability so people just look at him like he’s kind of a rude child. It was really nice to have someone be so sweet to him.”

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Sarah Simpson

About the Author: Sarah Simpson

I started my time with Black Press Media as an intern, before joining the Citizen in the summer of 2004.
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